The #NoManager organization and the Manager of One

- Leadership

by Vasco Duarte

I came across the story of Ryan Carson, who’s CEO of a company called Treehouse (pretty much the best company name if you ask me!)

Ryan has been experimenting with organizational ideas for a while. After initiating a 4-day work week in the company (more effective and more profitable), he and Alan, the co-founder of the company, tried to find a solution for a problem they ran into while the company grew.

Rumors, politics and other nasty things started to surface and it looked like management was the problem. So they decided to skip management. Completely!

On his blog he writes:

In my experience, managers started off as workers and then moved up the ladder, getting farther and farther from the front line. They gained power but slowly lost their touch with the day-to-day realities of talking to customers and actually creating solutions to their problems.

The five tasks of a manager

Ryan states that a manager has five main tasks:

  1. They bring messages from top to bottom,
  2. They are the judges when there are disputes
  3. They manage careers (there’s actually something to manage, apparently)
  4. They are the ones that should inspire people and make them happy.
  5. They shield their people from things they don’t need to know… (what the…?)

Since this a decision with a huge impact, Ryan wanted the whole company to vote for it. A staggering 90% of the employees thought it was a brilliant plan. So now they became a #NoManager company. If you would like to know how they are doing, read Ryan’s blog. Not only educative, but also a lot of fun to read.

On being a reluctant manager…

I also came across an article on the Wall Street Journal about 37signals, a Chicago based software firm.

On the surface it looks like they are following the #NoManager path the other way around, trying to increase the number of managers in the company: they recently appointed a manager for the first time in their existence (although I believe they already had an office manager, but that’s something else).

When you read carefully, it’s not clear that they want more managers… This new manager does not ‘manage’ people (he himself is quite reluctant about being a manager), but he’s there foremost to speed up some key decisions for the company’s main product, Basecamp.

Hire Managers of One

It’s an entertaining story, but for me the real stuff is on the blog of 37signals. In one post they advise companies to ‘Hire Managers of One’:

A manager of one is someone who comes up with their own goals and executes them. They don’t need heavy direction. They don’t need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do — set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc. — but they do it by themselves and for themselves.

If you look at like that the problem isn’t that there are too many managers, but too few! So what do you think? Have I gone insane? Or are the wacky ideas actually the best ones? Just ask yourself, do you want a manager, or could you be a Manager of One?

Photo: Brooke Lark (Unsplash)


3 thoughts on "The #NoManager organization and the Manager of One"

  • Henri van de Kraats says:

    This is the ‘kill the management’ trick. I wonder if all employees in a company are ready to become the Manager of One. This would need some coaching I guess. I’d rather try to shake the management cocktail and let management become fans of their colleagues. Freeing your people does not necessarily mean zero management.

  • Alexandra Engström Santos says:

    Very interesting stuff: i think tag #nomanagement is highly misleading. Its in fact #moremanagement or #selfmanagement. I see it working in places such in Finland where work morals are high, and people are independently performing their tasks without boss supervision. Luckily where I am 🙂 – GO 🙂 MELLY!

  • Felipe Largo says:

    Middle Manager’s were the bain my life as Agile coach. Teams were so much happier once they’ grasped the principles and practices paticipatory decision making – joint accountability breed amazing teams sprit. (you still need explicit accountability). The 37 Signals thing is weird. There’s zero buy in if your a developer is assigned work by some dickwad wondering around with gannt chart under his arm hand saying hurry up.
    Teams can allocate their own tasks and if people two to more people want to the same task you compromise. As a team talk about whats fair, give constructive feedback and ‘shock’ horror discuss about ow you feel about things. A manger is should be servant leader in this scenario – his primary concern that each team member live up the full potential. And so you adjust your style based on the novelty of the situation, severity of the challenge and experience the team. Clearly with inexperienced teams manager’s are there spot things that the teams missed – risks and opporuntities- but if she’s not checking in with her team (or her boss) rather wondering around doing things on their own and for for themselves -makes me think this must be parody!!

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